Unauthorised foreign workers

Dhaka,  Fri,  22 September 2017
Published : 08 Aug 2017, 20:43:19 | Updated : 08 Aug 2017, 20:43:39

Unauthorised foreign workers

When it comes to unauthorised employment not only in typical business entities but also in a host of other areas, including healthcare services and educational institutions, the onus is obviously on the immigration authorities and relevant law enforcers to make sure that no foreigner is employed without valid work permit, writes Wasi Ahmed
Doesn't it sound a trifle ironical that while Bangladeshi workers in good numbers are staying or overstaying illegally in many countries, there are plenty of foreign workers who find Bangladesh a suitable place to work illegally? 

Rough estimate says the number of such illegal workers in various capacities might well exceed four hundred thousand, residing mostly in the cities of Dhaka and Chittagong. Observers say that the influx of undocumented migrant workers into Bangladesh is largely demand-driven, particularly in the export-oriented garment factories. However, it is the lax official procedures and absence of vigilance and monitoring that also add to their growing numbers.

There is nothing wrong in legal employment of foreign workers, and in certain sectors including garment and high-tech manufacturing, Bangladesh does need skilled workers. But except few instances, the bulk of these workers including mid-level supervisors and managers get employed without legal documents. Reports have it that most of them from neighbouring countries enter Bangladesh on visit visas or multiple entry visas with prior arrangement for employment in local business enterprises dodging the law of the land. 

Picking up employment on such visas is grossly irregular and punishable under law. Authorities concerned, including the immigration department, haven't done anything noticeable to ensure that only the authorised persons are employed. It is also often alleged that taking advantage of the lax or no vigilance, a large number of unauthorised people are currently engaged in private hospitals, even elementary schools. Not all of them overstay, they go back and enter with fresh visas to continue with what they were doing. Their employers, for the most part, are the main facilitators in their illegal activities. 

The media have been reporting on the illegal practice for long. One important point here is that when unauthorised persons get employed by local business and manufacturing houses, they take their earnings through unofficial channels, that too in foreign currency. Over and above, taxes liable to be paid are evaded. 

Lately, it has come to light that the National Board of Revenue (NBR) is set to launch a drive to find out unauthorised foreigners working in local business entities. The NBR suspects that a significant amount on account of income tax is being evaded for years by foreigners working illegally in the country. A taskforce has reportedly been formed to carry out the inspection on some randomly selected factories or business premises in the capital in order to collect details of foreign employees and their legal and tax payment status. Beside bringing to book tax evading foreigners, the drive also aims at penalising the employers for recruiting unauthorised foreigners. According to the income tax law, an employer will face a penalty as much as 50 per cent of his or her total payable tax or taka half a million for employing even a single foreign national without work permit from the competent authorities. The NBR is also competent to scrap tax benefits including tax holiday facility for the export-oriented companies, if found guilty of conniving with the foreign workers in tax evasion.

It is clear enough that the NBR is concerned more about the taxes it is losing for years. But when it comes to unauthorised employment not only in typical business entities but also in a host of other areas, including healthcare services and educational institutions, the onus is obviously on the immigration authorities and relevant law enforcers to see to it that no foreigner is employed without valid work permit.

There should have been a data base of foreigners legally working in the country. This, on the one hand, would have facilitated the NBR to remain apprised of their tax payment status, and on the other, ensured their legal stay in the country. It appears that no such functional database exists. Records of work permit are of course available with the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA), but these are perhaps not meant for policing.

There is thus the need to move in a coordinated manner. The relevant agencies should team up in an effective way so that they don't run out of required information on foreigners working in the country as well as those being employed in violation of law. Having said this, there is more to the issue that need immediate attention. Quite often we come upon reports of grave financial frauds, and in most cases these are orchestrated by foreigners legally or illegally living in the country with serious criminal track record, collaborated by their local aides. These acts range from making counterfeit currency notes to manipulating ATM money withdrawal system to cheating of all conceivable methods and techniques. A good number of such elements might be hiding under cover of employment.

As for legal employment, isn't it necessary that the authorities check whether the type of job for which a foreigner has been sponsored/employed by a local company is one for which services of an expatriate is absolutely necessary? If the relevant authorities are alert, chances are high that many work permit applications will fail to address this important issue.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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